August 26, 2014

What I Did On My Holidays – 2014

Band Camp Report – 2014

Following on from 2013’s report, ignoring the drinking, late nights, games of “Cards Against Humanity”,
and only thinking about instrumental work (almost entirely double bass)…

Saturday evening

The week kicked off for me with a big orchestral session:


The morning was full of orchestral stuff – strings only, then a full symphony orchestra (well, almost full – we still don’t have a full complement of brass / percussion…)

  • Albinoni – Concerto op 7 number 1
  • Britten Simple Symphony
  • Elgar Serenade
  • Finally, for the all-strings, a quartet arrangement of Teddy Bears Picnic. The cello part, on bass, is fun.


  • Haydn Symphony 89
  • Mozart Piano Concerto K453
  • CPE Bach symphony in D 138/1 (NB: Unusually, second movt has a proper independent double bass part – not doubling anything else. Makes a nice change.)

The afternoon was full of cello stuff – Bachanianas Brasilieras (the one for 8 cellos, playing #2 – *how* high?), an arrangement of Yesterday (12 cellos, playing #3), Oklahoma (8 cellos, playing #2)

Quintets in the evening – Dvorak op.77, followed by
Onslow op 38 Bullet quintet (bass part is really a 2nd cello part, so I played it on that for a change)


  • Strauss – Metamorphosen (septet version). The full 23-parter is up later in the week…
  • Von Wilm – nonet (all strings). A few moments…
  • Saint-Saens piano sextet – erm. Why bother? Third movement only; very few actual notes…

In the evening, some Decets – String quartet, bass, wind quintet:

  • Dubois – Dixtuor
  • Lalo – Aubades
  • Dvorak – Bagatelles (incl Canon) arr Geoffrey Emerson (except the Canon, which should be #4 in the series, which was arranged by someone else…)


A day off for doing other stuff, but not the evening off. Another orchestral session:

  • Vaughan Williams – Lark Ascending
  • Butterworth – Banks of Green Willow
  • Mendelssohn – Scottish Symphony

Then over to the cello for a run of Mozart’s flute quartets (three out of four played…)


A mixed day

  • Dvorak – Serenade for Strings
  • Schubert – Octet (we were slated to do the Kaun as well, but didn’t get round to it…)
  • Saint-Saens – Septet (string quartet, piano, trumpet, bass)
  • D’Indy – Suite in Olden Style (trumpet, 2 flutes, violin, viola, cello, bass)
  • Mixed nonets – Spohr & Rheinberger
  • Bach – all six Brandenburg concertos, one to a part

The Brandenburgers were exhausted by the end of the day – we started that session at 10pm! Some cracking tempi, and not too much dithering / drinking meant that we were through by 00:30ish


The day kicked off with the bass part of the Dvorak wind serenade.

Then onto some string orchestra stuff:

  • Elgar “Sospiri”
  • Holst St Paul’s Suite
  • Finzi – Concerto for Clarinet & Strings

Then the annual Beethoven Septet (with 5/7 parts taken by my family members); last two movements of Conrad Kreutzer’s septet for the same combo. Perfectly acceptable, but not quite as memorable…

An impromptu Brandenburg 3, to see off a departing violaist

Finally, Schubert – Trout quintet followed by RVW’s quintet for the same combo. An early work, but it had some moments…


The day kicked off with various baroquery:

  • Albinoni – Concerto for 2 oboes, op 7 no 5
  • Telemann concertos in e minor and g major
  • a couple of Brandenburgs (3 & 4) – yes, I played Brandenburg 3 three times in as many days. And it’s the one with three of everything…

Some more big orchestral stuff to round off the morning:

  • Strauss Metamorphosen (the big version, unfortunately with a contrabassoon on 3rd bass)
  • another bash at the Finzi clarinet concerto
  • and an arrangement for string orchestra of the sextet from Strauss’s Capriccio.

The playing part of the afternoon was Mozart’s Gran Partita K361. Blimey, but there are some notes in there, and I will be blogging them properly later. Probably.

The week ended with a final big orchestral hurrah!:

  • Beethoven – Wellington’s Victory

  • Strauss – Horn Concerto (again)
  • Beethoven – Symphony 8

A good end to the week.

April 13, 2014

Bach – St John Passion

Having played this using the new Barenreiter / Urtext edition, but not owning my own part, I’m using as reference the continuo part from IMSLP; this part differs in certain respects from the new Barenreiter edition, the most annoying of which is the change in numbering of the individual movements. Also, Barenreiter has no rehearsal letters.  In the notes below, I’ll put the IMSLP part numbers first, then the Barenreiter number, and then the first line or so of libretto (in German).


17 / 12A / Bist du nicht seiner Jünger einer?

This is fast. Very fast. Much faster than it looks from the score. It felt like we were running at about 110-120 minims a minute.
12A 17 Bist du nicht seiner Jünger einer


23 / 16B / Wäre dieser nicht ein Übeltäter

25 / 16D / Wir dürfen niemand töten

Nothing looking too nasty in the old edition; but in the Barenreiter – what’s this? A treble clef with a subscript 8? And no instruction for the bass/bassoon to ignore it? Aaargh! But the same notes in the old edition are in normal bass clef, and say “Basso e fag tacet”. Not that I knew that when I was playing, oh no… Perhaps the clef was picked to scare us off those few notes? In which case, IN YOUR FACE. It didn’t work. I played ’em all – eventually. Here I’m showing the first section in both styles; the second section is no higher, but does have (gasp!) semiquavers.

23 16B Wäre dieser nicht ein Übeltäter - old style


23 16B Wäre dieser nicht ein Übeltäter - new style


36 / 21D / Kreuzige!

Ah yes, the ol’ “Crucify” number. (Sounds much better in German – easier to sing, and easier to sing nastily… Most choirs just sound too nice!) Again, some fiddly notes, but with the occasional bar or so of relief.  The first few bars are shown here:

36 21D Kreuzige


44 / 23D / Weg, weg

Similar problems to the Kreuzige / Crucify number, above.


48 / 24 / Eilt, ihr angefochtnen Seelen (Wohin!)

Depending on the edition, and the conductor, you might want to take a look at all the semiquaver runs in this little number.  Last night’s conductor asked me to play throughout, not just the bits marked “col”…  Saves having to look out for when you’re supposed to join back in again, I suppose…


67 / 39 / Ruht wohl

Got a low C? You’ll need it!

August 24, 2013

What I Did On My Holidays – 2013

Band Camp Report – 2013

So, following on from last year’s report, and only thinking about double bass work…


Logistically, this year was made more complicated by my wife’s recent accident, meaning we had to cram everything into one car. Fortunately, our new shiny Skoda Superb is significantly bigger than the old wagon, and everything (bass, cello, stool, large stands, violins, viola, three people + normal luggage for the week) all fitted in.

The musical week started off with an orchestral session:

  • Haydn – Symphony 104
  • Gounod Symphony #1

And a long catch-up session with friends, nattering into the small hours.


String orchestra:

  • Dowland – something-or-other. Can’t remember any specifics
  • Wagner – Adagio for Clarinet & Strings
  • Britten – Simple Symphony
  • Warlock – Capriol

A string quintet session. We were scheduled to do the Dvorak & Onslow, but decided to have a bash at the arrangement I found of Mussorgsky’s Pictures in an Exhibition at IMSLP. It’s definitely a transcription from the original piano, rather than a reduction of Ravel’s arrangement. Needs beefy players throughout. And there’s a mistake in the bass part – a few bars missing. Must remember to do something about that.

Skipping over the massed cello stuff…

The day was supposed to end with me playing bass for a load of Bach Brandenburgs and other concertos, but the room wasn’t big enough, so I went and joined a wind ensemble and pretended to be a contrabassoon or tuba as required:

  • Du Grau – Les clochettes (contrabassoon part. Needs bottom Bflats; I have a four-string bass. Do the maths.)
  • Strauss – Suite in B flat, op 4. (Contrabassoon or tuba).
  • Strauss – Serenade op 7.  (Ditto)
  • Glazunov, op 47 – this is an actual string bass part. Yay!

Great fun. More drinking & nattering til the small hours.


Start the day with a full morning of string orchestra stuff, including:

  • Elgar – Six Easy Pieces, op22
  • Mozart – Serenade 6, k239. An independent bass part – there are some solo accompaniment bits that would repay inspection
  • Elgar – Serenade op 20
  • Peter Thompson – a chap who wrote various bits for the Peterfield Area Schools’ String Orchestra (PASSO) – a couple of bits (Fanfare & Theme for PASSO). “Double bass optional”. Riiight.

Ended the day with a nonet session – Martinu & Onslow. I was right – the Onslow does repay further inspection. There are shades of Hammer Horror in the first movement, with lots of steady chromatics.


Day Of Rest. Do something else during the day, and then back to the music in the evening with an orchestral session.

  • Vaughan Williams – Serenade (1898) in A for (small) Orchestra
  • Mozart – Symphony #40 – I found a mistake in the bass parts. *sigh*


A gentle day.

  • Verdi – String Symphony. Actually someone’s arrangement of the string quartet in E for string orchestra. Not an interesting bassline, as it’s mostly just doubling the cellos except when the cellos are doing something interesting, and then we get to double the violas…
  • Schubert – Octet
  • Stanford – Serenade op. 95. Mild amusement as we started the last movement as it sounds like “Postman Pat”.


Full-on today.

  • Schubert – Trout quintet. Breaking my personal rules about “no Trout before coffee”. I didn’t give of my best, which was a shame.
  • Quilter – piano sextet “Gypsy Life”. Add in a violin to the Trout combo. A short piece.
  • Dowland – Lachrymae. Again.
  • Britten – Lachrymae (on a theme by, erm, Dowland)
  • Britten – prelude & fugue for 18 strings. Again. Took second part this time, to give weight to the start of the fugue.
  • Wagner – Siegfried Idyll.
  • Tchaikovsky – Nutcracker. Reduced by one of our number, this was by way of a test run / playtest.
  • Mendelssohn – Piano sextet op 110. Doesn’t feel as mature as some of his other works, but perfectly playable.
  • Holbrook – piano sextet op 46. Bleah. I don’t know if it was us not being up to the job, or the music, but this just didn’t click for us this evening.


The final day. And a big one. And I’m having brain fail about what we played… But I definitely played the following:

  • Britten – Sinfonietta. This I found surprisingly playable (I’m not a big fan of Benji…)
  • Percy Hilder Miles – string sextet (2 violin, 2 viola, cello, bass). None of us thought this worth playing beyond the first couple of pages, as it wasn’t going anywhere.
  • Krug – Preis-Sextet. Originally scored for 2 violins, violotta (a big violin, tuned an octave below the violin), viola, cello, and cellone (a big cello, tuned a 4th below the cello). Seemed to work better with the violotta part going to viola 1, and the viola 1 part going to viola 2. The cellone part was not satisfactorily adapted for cello 2 (and that arrangement definitely didn’t work on the bass), so it looks like I’ve got some homework to do to rearrange this. Good stuff, though!
  • “Red Hedgehogs”, it says here. This is shorthand for a collection of music arranged by Geoffrey Emerson for wind band. In this case, we did:
    • Mozart – symphony 38 “Prague”
    • Elgar – Serenade in E minor op 20
    • Tchaikovsky – Serenade in C op 48

    It felt rather odd – the cues I’m used to from playing these pieces coming from the wrong instruments and the wrong place!

  • Mozart – Symphony 27 (I think – this is where the memory is fading)
  • Haydn – Farewell symphony
  • Spohr – Grand Nonet
  • Rheinberger – Nonet

What a day. What a way to end the week. I think this was the busiest of band camps (for me) since 2005!

August 4, 2013

The Evils of Photocopies

I don’t mind you photocopying music, provided it’s for your own purposes or to replace a missing part from a set (as was the case just now with the Conrad Kreutzer Septet). And I can quite happily play from a photocopy. What I really don’t like is playing from an incompetently-done photocopy. One where the copy has been done so carelessly that the last bar of each line is missing something – a note, a rest, a repeat mark.

Right. Back to the normal lack of service.

April 28, 2013

Mussorgsky Pictures – String Quintet version?

I was spending a quiet afternoon listening to the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures In An Exhibition”, and found myself getting mugged down memory lane from the times I spent helping out behind the scenes at the Leeds International Piano Competition. I also found myself hunting for a score on IMSLP. I found much more than I bargained for – Robert Patterson of Great River Music has arranged this for string quintet (quartet + bass). The score and parts are available at IMSLP.

This looks like it could be fun. I’m going to have to see if I can play this with some friends soon… It’ll make a change from that blasted Beethoven/Khym quintet!

February 11, 2013

Massenet – Cendrillon (“Cinderella”)

I’ve recently spent a week playing the bass part in Massenet’s opera “Cendrillon” for Leeds University Union’s OperaSoc. The plot should be familiar to all of you, as it is just another version of the Cinderella story…

There’s nothing much to worry the double bass player, unless you are doing this as part of a very small orchestra – there are places where the double bass part divides (albeit usually as a pizz & arco versions of the same note). However, if your band has only one cellist, then you might have to cover some of the lines where the cello part divides as well. There were points where I found myself covering three cello lines as well as the two basslines. Fortunately, there’s significant overlap!

The only other advice is my usual operatic advice: WATCH THE CONDUCTOR. Singers miss beats, or add in extra ones, and it’s up to the band to follow the conductor. Make sure, therefore, that you’ve got a good sightline between you and the conductor and put your music in it, so you don’t have to move your eyes too far between dots and beats.


Incidentally, what *was* Massenet on? In Manon, he had her singing about a table, and in Cinders, she sings about a chair. Was he some sort of furniture fetishist?

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September 28, 2012

Haydn Symphonies – Reduced

I just spent an evening playing a couple of late Haydn symphonies – Symphony 94 – Surprise & Symphony 104 – London. These were an official, Haydn-endorsed reduction done by Johann Peter Salomon for String Quartet + Flute, and have recently been re-edited by Christopher Hogwood. (I keep wanting to write “Hogwash” or “Hogweed” there… I blame my father.) A friend has added a double bass part to these to add a bit of oomph – mainly by taking the orchestral bass part, with a couple of extra bits where the cello in the reduction has to go filling in something else…

Not particularly challenging apart from the odd semiquaver passage, but fun, and worth a heads-up. (“Surprise” needs a bottom C for the slow movement, and the bass part I was playing had its own surprise in a bit of triple & quadruple-stopping. Thank you Tony!)

September 8, 2012

Acorn Antiques

This is a bit different to the normal stuff I do.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with Ms Victoria Wood’s work?  If not, she’s a stand-up comedian who’s also done a few good songs (“Barry & Freda / Let’s Do It” being the one that springs to my mind).  Aaanyway, one of the regular sketches in her TV show was “Acorn Antiques”, a mickey-take of cheap soap operas, and that ballooned into a full-on three hour musical in 2005. Thankfully, we didn’t do the original full version of the musical, but an extended version of the second half – this is going on what I’m reading on the Wikipedia article (dangerous, I know, to use Wiki as a source…), and what I have found on YouTube. It seems that the original version wasn’t well received, so Wood rewrote it around the second half, which was the sort of thing that the audiences associate with “Acorn Antiques”.

Note to the unwary classical-type double bassist: this isn’t an ordinary double bass part.  As well as standard double bass, there are numbers that are scored for electric bass (fretless, for preference, as there are opportunities for slides).  You can get by with doing it all on stand-up (as I did), but it’ll shred your plucking fingers (and I have to be careful how I say that). My advice: surgical spirit before-hand, and a supply of Germolene New Skin for during the run. You’ll take it off during each half, but it’ll help, believe me.

Things you’ll need to know:

  1. Vamp.  Also known as “Vamp ’til ready”.  Usually a short (one or two bar) phrase to be repeated while there’s some business on stage.  Use this as an opportunity to practise watching the MD like a hawk.  Chances are that the MD will be busily vamping as well, as the MD is also responsible for keyboard 1.
  2. How to dump your bow and pick it up again very quickly.  I use a bow holster – very handy.  Some of the pizzicato passages are virtually impossible if you’re holding the bow at the same time.
  3. We didn’t do the opening Manchesterford scene-setting number.
  4. This show is not for kids, as it involves “adult themes”. And swearing about biscuits and cakes. There is a very real possibility I’ll never be able to think again of custard creams without smirking. See the “Macaroons” number – NSFW.

Technically, the music isn’t difficult.  Watch out for the not-so-subtle keychanges that cause you to suddenly look at the music and think “*how* many sharps?”.  There are a couple of trickier moments, however:

08 – Have You Met Miss Babs

Babs, dancing with a standard lamp. Raunchy music, needs a lot of power to get through. Some trickyish switches between quavers and triplets, as well as an unfriendly 12/8 bar. Here – have a look.

11 – The Old Small Print

This seems to have been… borrowed… from “The Old Landmark” – you know, the number in The Blues Brothers with James Brown. At least, that’s what I was thinking of at the time I was playing it… This is one of the Electric Bass parts rather than normal upright string bass, and therefore requires more oomph. Pizzicato all the way, some longer notes that need to riiiing out. And a ton of octave work, which I could only play by using the thumb on the bottom string and a finger (or two) on the upper…

It starts in F (nice and easy), but slips up a semitone into F# for the second verse, and ends in G. Here’s some of the middle bit. Remember – all pizz. I hope your fingers are tougher than mine were at the start of the week!

Those are the only bits I can remember being particularly difficult. There’s a number that goes sailing up to an E – the one in the treble clef, above A440, but it’s long sustained notes, so isn’t a problem. Have fun!

August 26, 2012

Bizet – Symphony in C

This seems to be a work written when Bizet was a student, which he then put aside and forgot about. It was first performed in 1935, at which point Bizet was (a) 97 years old, and (b) very dead…

It’s good and jolly, but there are some very long repeats – even us basses had to turn pages to get back to the top! Apart from that, there’s not much to worry us. The movements look tame, but the time signatures and tempi are brisker than you might expect from looking at it.

The really interesting bit is in the second (slow) movement. We’re in 9/8, it feels like a big slow 3, and it’s all going nice and easily until figure [5] when we’re suddenly exposed (fortunately doubling the cello section, but even so)… This excerpt starts from figure [5], and runs to the bar of figure [6], and is just a little uncomfortable:

The last two movements go at a cracking pace, but there’s nothing much else to worry us.

August 26, 2012

Martinu Nonet

The Spohr Grand Nonet is a popular piece of music. It involves one of each stringed instrument (violin, viola, cello, double bass), and one of each woodwind (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon) and horn. The piece is one of those “standards” that can quite happily fill a large chunk of a concert; however, there’s often perceived to be the problem of what to play with it. Someone once collated a list of 99 pieces to go with the Spohr. This then generated a correspondence along the lines of “you missed out “, which generated another list of 99 works…

This Nonet by Martinu is one of those works for the “Grand Nonet” combination. It’s a more recent work (1959), and can be quite tricky in places but approachable in others. It needs to be studied and worked carefully, particularly if being tackled by a group containing more than a couple of people who are new to the work. It took me about eight years (of, admittedly, irregular attempts) to get the hang of it!

First movement – think of this as being in 2 rather than 4, even though the time says 4/4. It helps to keep things moving. Generally, this isn’t tricky, but there is a slightly hairy bit at around bar 170 (figure [17]):

The second movement, although it’s marked as being slow, shouldn’t be *too* slow, otherwise it will drag, you’ll lose all sense of pulse, and the thing grinds to a halt. Apart from that, nothing much to worry the bass department.

The final movement, however, is a different kettle of fish. The time signature changes every few bars:

Keep the quaver beat going in your head – this is always the same – but don’t try to count them individually!

Good luck.